These days gardeners have not just to consider the visual aspects of planting but also how the aesthetics of a particular situation also fit in under the wider umbrella of sustainability and environmental awareness. As gardeners, we are all more sensitive to the impact of our activities on the environment. This has led in many cases to a change in the style of garden being created, towards a newer naturalism. The success of the planting schemes at the London Olympic Park has shown how gardens can be composed of beneficial plant communities, rather than individuals or groups of individuals, and retain longevity of interest.
Yet nothing can compare to the exuberance of wild plant communities particularly meadowland in summer. At Hodnet we are lucky to have naturally occurring areas of wild meadow. In the early spring some of these areas are filled with daffodils. As the flowers fade and the foliage dies down, the matrix of grasses begins to arise through which wild flowers will come.
Meadowlands are specific ecologists and flourish in a specific set of conditions. What we think of as a traditional English meadow with billowing poppies and oxeye daisies often only occurs on soil which is low in nutrients and where the grass is managed in such a way that nutrients do not build up. This allows finer grasses to flourish which in turn allows flowers to colonize.
Up to 80% of a meadow is made up of grasses. For those of us not lucky enough to be able to have a meadow of their own, there are specially developed seed mixes. The alternative is to use perennials to replicate the meadow aesthetic if not the actual conditions. To do this most of the plantings need to have a high structural quality in order to carry the looser elements. Think of a fruit cake in which the special element (the fruit) arises from a matrix which gives it form and support (the dough).
For all the talk of plant matrix and ecologists nothing quite compares to the ephemeral beauty of wild flowers. Sooner or later the grass has to be cut and harvested to preserve this very special feature of the garden. When that happens I am always reminded of these words of Frost.
“We raised a simple prayer
Before we left the spot,
That in the general mowing
That place might be forgot;
Or if not all so favored,
Obtain such grace of hours
That none should mow the grass there
While so confused with flowers.”